Thursday, May 1, 2014

Happy May Day!

Can you believe it's May already? Time sure does fly! April was busy for me. I started (and failed) NaNoWriMo. I also got a job! Full-time at a webdesign agency. I'm in my second week now and it's been going well. Still learning the ropes and adjusting to being awake in the a.m., but so far so good. :)

How was your April? Do anything exciting? Do you have any fun plans for May?

And as promised, here is your free May calendar! Enjoy!!

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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Free Desktop Calendar: April 2014

I know it's halfway through the month, but I thought it might be fun to give you, my loyal readers, a free desktop calendar! I will try to remember to do this every month, if you want. (And please let me know if you need a different screen resolution than the ones I've got uploaded already.)

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Friday, March 28, 2014

Another one bites the dust

Well, one of the six books I was attempting to read is back in the "return to the library" pile already. I definitely do NOT recommend The Chaos of Stars by Kiersten White. I could only force myself to read a chapter and a half, but I just couldn't take it anymore.

This book has the most beautiful bookcover, so I was expecting a beautiful book. Instead we have a sullen, sarcastic, very-American-sounding teenager shoehorned into this beautiful Egyptian world. It just doesn't work.

Every time I started to get swept away by the story, the main character rolled her eyes and got annoyed and my suspension of disbelief was shattered. Great idea. Horrible execution.

I'll be adding this book to take it's place instead: Wildwood by Colin Meloy. This isn't actually a library book, but one I bought (so I better like it!!). It's supposedly a Narnia-like story set in Portland (where I used to live), and the cover is mesmerizingly beautiful, so... I had to try it!

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Do you read multiple books?

I'm going to try something nuts and actively read 6 books at once. I mean, I do normally have at least a couple going at once, and honestly I've got about 20 others started but they're now hibernating on my "Shelved but not abandoned" pile. But generally speaking I don't actively read quite this many at once. Am I crazy to attempt it?

So... my current situation is that I'm in the middle of a super good book, Skybreaker, which is a library book, but I have a stack of other library books also starring at me saying, "Read me! Read me! I'm your new favorite book! Why are you ignoring me?" So I figured, "Why not? Let's aim to read at least one chapter a day in each of them. If one of them grabs me and sucks me in and forces me to read more, who am I to argue? But at least I won't be distracted by wishing I knew what the other books on my shelf are about.

How 'bout you? Do you read multiple books at once? If so, why? If not, have you ever?

(Books I will be reading are shown down below).

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Premade Blogger Templates

Got a bunch of new Blogger templates up in the shop recently. I also took out a lot of the older ones w/ the intention of simplifying them and re-uploading them, but of course I've been to busy to actually get them back up! Oops...

Available for purchase. View the demo.

Available for purchase. View the demo.

Available for purchase. View the demo.

Available for purchase. View the demo.

Available for purchase. View the demo.

Saturday, March 15, 2014

Summary of Book Review: January - March 2014

I've been catching up posting book reviews of books I've read this year. In case you missed them... here's a list of them all! (PS: I'll probably be back-dating some reviews for last year soon, so I'll let you know when I've got those up as well).

January 2014

On Writing by Stephen King
Little Brother by Cory Doctorow
Cinder by Marissa Meyer
Remote: Office Not Required by Jason Fried
Gregor the Overlander by Suzanne Collins
Sweet Little Lies by Lauren Conrad

February 2014

Wuthering High by Cara Lockwood
Timebound by Rysa Walker
Never Have I Ever by Katie Heaney
The Fallen by Celia Thomson

March 2014

The Archived by Victoria Schwab
The Awakening by L. J. Smith
The Stolen by Celia Thomson
Airborne by Kenneth Oppel

Book Review: Airborn

This book is so cool. I fell in love with it from page one and can't wait to finish the series. It reminds me a lot of my favorite book when I was growing up: The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle, only from a boy's perspective and in a slightly altered steam-punk-ish version of history.

Matt Cruse is a 15-year-old cabin boy onboard an airship that sails over the Pacific Ocean. He teams up with a wealthy passenger, Kate de Vries, to explore a tropical island, defeat evil pirates, and save their ship from certain danger.

I give this book 5 out of 5 stars.

Saturday, March 8, 2014

Book Review: The Stolen (Nine Lives of Chloe King)

This is book 2 of the Nine Lives of Chloe King series. Overall, I sort of like the storyline but the writing is mediocre at best. I can't say I really recommend this series, although I'm sort of curious to see what happens next, so I'll probably finish it at some point. The last half of this book was better than the first half but I still found myself struggling to finish.

I give this 3 out of 5 stars.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Book Review: Thirty-Two Going on... Spinster

Okay I dug this out of my "abandoned" shelf to finish it b/c it really was a small book and I couldn't stand abandoning one that was this small... but seriously... this book is awful. It's basically a train-of-thought monologue of the main character as she whines about how boring her life is, her spinster-y she is, and how much she hates her job. I actually diligently read through about 3 chapters but then I had to take flying leaps through the rest of the book, speed reading it in about 20 minutes just so that I could find out how it ended.

I kid you not, conversations took pages... PAGES!... simply because the narrator couldn't stop thinking. I. Really. Don't. Care. Just have a conversation. I don't need to know what type of danish you're dreaming of in between every line of dialogue. No joke. A page of thought. Then a line of the conversation. Then another page of thought. Then another line of conversation. I began just jumping from dialogue line to dialogue line, skipping everything in between, in order to keep myself from gouging my eyes out from having to read such dribble.

Oddly enough, the story got better once I stopped reading every word of it. The actual PLOT was interesting. The rest could've been edited out. How this train-of-thought nightmare got past the editors is beyond me.

I give this 1 out of 5 stars... which really is a generous rating.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Book Review: The Awakening (Vampire Diaries)

Wow this book is bad. At first is was somewhat bearable, somewhat interesting, but the story never actually picked up and the characters never really developed.

There is some difference between this and the tv show, which was to be expected, but I didn't think it'd be quite so different. While the show is intense and mysterious, this book is just boring. Nothing happens. We basically listen to Elena whine for 9/10 of the book about how Stefan is ignoring her. I'm sorry, but that's not very interesting.

The characters are completely one-dimensional and unsympathetic. I never really cared what they were up to, which I really should, as the reader of a book. The protagonists were boring and whiny, and the antagonist was so one-dimensionally evil that he didn't even seem real.

This book just reeked of sloppy writing, which I can only attribute to the fact that it was written in the 90's, well before YA became a best-selling genre. It's like the author didn't think readers could follow a well-thought-out plotline or appreciate well-crafted characters.

I'm morbidly curious to see what the next book in the series is like, but I will probably be just as disappointed. We'll see if I decide to pick it up or not to find out. Lol.

I give this book 1 out of 5 stars.

Monday, March 3, 2014

Book Review: The Archived

Alright I gotta be honest. The first 7-8 chapters deserve about 2 out of 5 stars, at most. The rest of the book, especially the last half, deserve about 7 out of 5 stars. Super good. I'll balance it out by giving this book a 5-star rating, but don't think that's because it's perfect, because it's not. Just wanted to clarify that.

Once I got past the beginning, this book was fabulously entertaining. We enter a realm where things aren't always what they appear to be, and mysteries are a way of life for the main chracter, Mackenzie Bishop. Mackenzie is a Keeper, someone who can see escaped Histories (the dead who have woken up) and whose job it is to return them to the Archives (where the Histories are cataloged... sort of a library that files away all the dead people who've died in that part of the city).

** Spoiler Alert -- the following paragraphs contain minor book spoilers, just to warn you ** 

There were two main issues I had with the beginning of this book, so bad that I nearly gave up reading several times:

----> First off, it literally took me 2-3 chapters before I could definitely decide who Da was, or rather, who he wasn't. The way it's written, I assumed Da was just a mis-print and the author had meant to write Dad. Da seemed to be dead and Dad didn't, but the entire premise of the book is that she deals with dead people, so it seemed very fathomable that these two characters could be actually the same character, just with a few typos in there. It's extremely careless writing to name two characters nearly the same name, especially without clarifying who they are. It wasn't until about the 9th chapter that it's even stated that Da is, indeed, her grandfather, not her father, but in the beginning chapters especially, it's not even clear if Da is a separate person as Dad, or the same person. Very very poorly written and explained.

----> Second thing... LIke I said it took me about 8 chapters to even get into this book. That's because the first chapters are mainly just explanation... often-contradicting-each-other explanations. At least it seems that way until you understand the explanations better. Basically I felt like just as soon as I understood one part, another explanation was given that either explained things further or differently. It made it so extremely confusing that I very nearly stopped reading after every chapter. Only the great reviews made me push through, and I'm glad I did, but dang... NOT a great way to begin a book. Seriously. The premise should've been summed up in a few paragraphs... one chapter at most. Having it take 7 chapters to explain was entirely too long and tedious. Don't get me wrong - her writing is incredible, but taking that long to set up the story was ridiculous.

I give this book 5 out of 5 stars.

Monday, February 17, 2014

Book Review: The Fallen (Nine Lives of Chloe King)

A pretty good page-turner. I initially picked up this series because I enjoyed the short-lived ABC Family show of the same name, although the books don't totally follow the same storyline as the show.

I can't rate this very high though because I found the inordinate amount of sexual situations and profanity to be a bit unnerving in a YA book. The storyline really doesn't need this and it ends up feeling forced, like the author was trying to up the rating on the book (if books had ratings like tv shows and movies do).

Some of the relationships between characters also feel forced and awkward, unfortunately, which is another downside to an otherwise enjoyable book. The scenes with Chloe learning about her cat abilities are great; I just wish the rest of the book had felt so similarly free and unhindered.

I give this book 3 out of 5 stars.

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Book Review: Never Have I Ever

I swear I could've written this book. Sure the names of the boys I crushed on in school are different and some of the situations are slightly off from what I've experienced, but this is basically my life.

As a perpetually single, introverted, Christian girl coming of age in the 90's... Katie's experiences ring very similarly to my own. I've been the awkward wallflower at parties (still am, let's face it). I've been the one who's had guys I liked asking me to please help them get back with my best friend (oddly it's comforting knowing I'm not the only one that's happened too). I absolutely wrote stuff down in Lisa Frank journals (I mean, who didn't in the 90's? Seriously).

At most every page of this memoir, I find myself nodding in agreement or grimacing as I realize just how awkward and weird I really was as a younger person (and secretly hoping that maybe I've grown out of all that). Not everyone's life is a romance novel and it's very refreshing to read about someone who's just as unlucky in this department as I seem to be.

I give this book 4 out of 5 stars.

Saturday, February 8, 2014

Book Review: Timebound

I'd say this book needs 3.5 or 3.75 stars, rather than a full 4, but only because there were a few gaping plot holes that I felt like I had to overlook in order to fully buy into this story. Other than that though (I won't spoil you with the details), I thought this was a great page-turner and I can't wait until the next in the series comes out this fall!

In summary, this book follows the story of Kate Pierce-Keller, as she travels back in time to 1890's Chicago to save her timeline from being altered... and also to save her own life from being erased in the process.

I give the book itself 3.75 out of 5 stars. I give the cover art 10 out of 5 stars.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Book Review: Wuthering High

Super cute story, despite the numerous typos and grammatical errors. Once I got past that though, it really was a great book. A romantic ghost-story set in a boarding school - what more could you want in a book?

Miranda gets shipped off to a juvenile detention school that's haunted by the spirits of dead writers and fictional book characters. Her and her friends race to figure out the mysteries before their school is doomed forever!

Sidenote... I did begin the second book in this series, but was bored out of my gourd. This first book is pretty good, but I don't recommend continuing the rest of the series. Somehow the writing disintegrated very quickly.

I give this first book 3 out of 5 stars (and the second book 1/2 star out of 5 -- I didn't finish it or even get very far in it, so I won't be posting a review).

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Book Review: Sweet Little Lies (L.A. Candy)

A quick and easy read, Sweet Little Lies is the second in a series by Lauren Conrad, a fictional account of her own life as a reality t.v. star. (For those of you living under a rock... Lauren rocketed to tabloid cover status when her and her high school friends were filmed for the MTV reality show Laguna Beach. She also starred in the spin-off show The Hills.)

As I read this and the previous book in the series, I found myself trying to figure out who was who (since most of these characters are based off of real life people). Lauren does a good job of disguising the guys especially, but it's fairly obvious who most of the girl friends were based on if you've seen the tv shows.

I give this book 3 out of 5 stars. Nothing to write home about, but definitely a fun weekend beach read.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Book Review: Gregor the Overlander (Underland Chronicles)

This book was super cute, and although aimed at a younger audience, I still really enjoyed it.

I've actually had this book on my shelf for years and it just occurred to me that it is by the author of The Hunger Games (a series that I loved!). While I wouldn't say it's as good as those, this book was still very interesting and I look forward to reading the rest of the series.

Basically, we follow Gregor and his sister Boots as they fall out of a NYC laundry room into an underworld ruled by giant bugs, bats, and rats. They go on an Alice-in-Wonderland-like adventure as they quest to make it back home in one piece.

I give it 3.5 out of 5 stars.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Baby-Sitters Club: Then and Now

Book cover changes can sometimes be a good thing. As a graphic designer, I can appreciate that fact. They can introduce a new generation to an old classic that might not otherwise be glanced at.

Sometimes, however...

This happens...

BSC Book Cover: circa 2010

I guess it's better than this previous remake (which thankfully I've never noticed before):

BSC Book Cover: circa 1990

But sometimes I just have to ask... why mess with the original? It was great and it makes me nostalgic just to look it! I admit the girls look a little outdated, but then again... this series is set in the 80's. How else should they look?

BSC Book Cover: circa 1986

Of all the remakes I found of this cover, I think the 1995 version was the best (though I still prefer the original). It updates the cover image to appeal to a new generation, but it still maintains the spirit of the original. I wish the current book cover design had been as thoughtful.

BSC Book Cover: circa 1995

Thursday, January 23, 2014

App Review: Runtastic Pedometer

via: Runtastic Pedometer
According to smart, healthy-type people, it's best to aim for walking 10,000 steps a day. (In other words, 5 miles a day). As a perpetual couch potato myself, that sounds like a tall order! The Walking Site explains that the average sedentary person (sounds like me!) walks about 1000-3000 steps a day, on average. No wonder my metabolism has slowed down post-high-school! I definitely qualify as a sedentary person.

So... naturally this information made me curious to see how many steps a day I'm walking. I found an interesting free iPhone app (it's also available for Android phones) that you just turn on and leave in your pocket all day. It tracks not only your steps but also translates that into miles. Yesterday I tried it out and walked about 4000 steps (I went for a 15-20 minute walk in the morning, which I normally don't do).

I'm very curious to see over the course of time, how much I walk on average (and whether or not this will motivate me to walk more). I do tend to be competitive with myself, so I have a feeling that I may start trying to beat my "score" by walking a little more each day. I also love that this app, unlike a standard drug-store pedometer, keeps track of your walking history for you. That definitely helps give me a better sense of my habits and how to improve htem.

How much do you walk every day? Have you tried a digital pedometer app? Did it help motivate you?

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Book Review: Remote - Office Not Required

As a remote worker myself, this book is preaching to the choir. It repeats itself a lot but is a quick read and gives some great ideas and insights to the practice of remote working.

While I sometimes felt like it was just an advertisement for the author's own company, 37 Signals, most of the time this book just made good sense and found me wishing more companies would operate this way.

A quick read - I give 3.75 out of 5 stars.

Project 365: Week 3

Day 15 - Tracking Etsy sales.

Day 16 - Woke up to a pile of books on the table. Wonder what that's all about?

Day 17 - Mmm! Donuts!

Day 18 - Another 80 degree day in Southern California.

Day 19 - Admiring the palm trees.

Day 20 - Kitty says, "I'm behind on my newspaper reading!"

Day 21 - Today we said hello to the turtles at Pet-Co.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Site Design: Social Demand NY

I recently finished up a fun web project for a social marketing start-up in New York City. I designed a mobile-responsive splash-page style website on the Squarespace platform.

I wish I could say I had to travel there to consult for the project, but alas... I'm still here in sunny California. ;P

See this design in action!

Project 365: Week 2

Day 8 - I feel sort of bad for wearing shorts and sandals while the rest of the country is in an apocalyptic snowstorm... but only sort of.

Day 9 - Working on a knit cowl for my shop.

Day 10 - I turned around to take a break from working and look what I found!

Day 11 - Went and saw Catching Fire today. Makes me want to re-read the books.

Day 12 - Reading a great book that I got for Christmas. It's super good; I can't put it down!

Day 13 - It's the "oops it's almost midnight and I haven't taken a photo yet" photo.

Day 14 - Interesting shapes outside my window.

Monday, January 13, 2014

Book Review: Cinder (The Lunar Chronicles)

This was an excellent book and I can't wait to read the rest of the series. Cinder is set in a dystopian future where robots are second-class citizens, and robot-human hybrids are even lower than that.

As the name of the book would suggest, this is a modern re-telling of the fairy tale, Cinderella. I liked that it didn't borrow so heavily from the original that the plotline became obvious. This book will keep you guessing until the end and leave you wanting more.

I give this book 6 out of 5 stars.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

2014 TBR Pile • Top 20

On my 2014 "to be read" list... (in no particular order)

Homeland by Cory Doctorow
I read "Little Brother" this month and thoroughly enjoyed it. (Couldn't put it down actually - finished it in one sitting).

I've already started reading this and unfortunately it's MUCH slower paced than "Little Brother" so far. According to the online review though, if you can plod through the first 75 pages, the rest is much better.

The Circle by Dave Eggers
This book sounds interesting and the cover was illustrated by one of my current favorite illustrators, Jessica Hische... so that means it must be good, right? Like "Little Brother", this is also a techno-thriller story... technology takes over the world and the little guy fights back. Sounds promising!

Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson
I started this book a couple years ago and really liked it. I was just... distracted... like I have been for years... so never finished it. This is the year for finishing books I've started though so I'll definitely be picking this one up again.

Beautiful Darkness by Kami Garcia
The second in the series Beautiful Creatures. I'm really looking forward to seeing what happens next. I recently read the first book and watched the movie and this one definitely needs a place on my TBR list... as soon as I stop seething about how horrible the movie was.

(In case you didn't know and don't mind a slight spoiler... the movie severely subtracts from the book's plot, piles on a bunch of new stuff, and completely rewrote the ending... the last 1/2 hour of the movie never even happened in the book! Needless to say, this completely irks the book-lover in me.)

Allegiant by Veronica Roth
I'm sure this book needs no introduction, but in case you've been living under a rock the last couple years... this is the 3rd in a series called Divergent. I've been looking forward to concluding this trilogy and the only question now is... whether or not I should re-read the first two books so I can refresh the storyline in my mind.

Suddenly Royal by Nichole Chase
I know nothing about this book except that it looks fun and the premise is interesting - a random nobody becomes a royal somebody overnight. Yes, I realize this sounds exactly like The Princess Diaries... but that's okay. It sounds fun and interesting, and... really now, what better reason do I need to read something?

Son of a Witch by Gregory Maguire
I've been meaning to read this sequel to Wicked for probably 10 years now. Wicked was an excellent book, a fascinating twist on the classic story Wizard of Oz. I've never seen the musical (nor do I have  any desire to), so I have no idea how it compares. I just know that I have great expectations for the rest of this series, so why not plug along at it this year?

Cinder by Marissa Meyer
I'm actually reading this book right now and it's very good! Cinder is a dystopian futuristic take off the story of Cinderella, from the point of view of Cinder, a cyborg, who is "volunteered" to undergo plague testing by her evil stepmother. So far, so good, and I can't wait to read more!

The Magician by Michael Scott
Yet another second in a series that I have been meaning to get to. I got this and Cinder for Christmas, so they are definitely on my TBR for this year. It's basically a series about magic and wizardry, centering around some kids who team up with the immortal Nicolas Flamel (of Harry Potter and Sorcerer's Stone fame).

Interesting tidbit: Nicolas Flamel was actually a real guy, and was apparently very interesting and mysterious because people keep adding him into fiction series to help move the plot along.

Extras by Scott Westerfeld
This apparently came out about 7 years ago and I just recently discovered that it existed. It's the fourth in a series called Uglies that I absolutely loved and devoured. I had thought it was a trilogy and only recently learned that there were four in the series, not three, so am super excited to read more about this dystopian universe!

Peter Pan by J. M. Barrie
I keep being reminded of this story lately and have never actually read it, so... on my TBR list it goes.

Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell
I read The Tipping Point a couple years ago and really enjoyed it. Malcolm Gladwell has written several other books, including this one, and they all seem incredibly fascinating. If I had to categorize his style, I'd say his books are in the same vein as Freakonomics. He basically writes about sociological phenomenon presented in a very consumable, easy-to-read mannner.

And the Mountains Echoed by Khaled Hosseini
This is a new book by the author of The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns. He writes fictionalized accounts of real situations that occur in his home country of Afghanistan. These page-turners made my heart ache for those innocents caught in a war-torn country of extremists, and I expect this book to be just as heart-wrenching.

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak
This book looks super good and the movie is coming out this year also. I hope to read this before I watch the movie! It's set in 1930's Nazi Germany, and looks like it'll be quite a page-turner.

The Boy in the Striped Pajamas by John Boyne
Another story-turned-movie based in Nazi-Germany that I've been meaning to read/watch. I also plan to read the book before I let myself see the movie, so we'll see how that turns out.

Timeline by Michael Crichton
Or really any book by Michael Crichton will do. I read the two Jurassic Park books years ago (yes, there were only two - where they got the plot for the third movie, I have no idea). I really, really, really loved the JP books - as page-turner-y as Dan Brown - so look forward to reading more by this author.

The Complete Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
Like Peter Pan, this classic has been on the back of my mind to read for awhile. Why not this year?

How to Be Idle by Tom Hodgkinson
I'm always a sucker for "how our brain works" books, and this one looks to be just as interesting as all the rest. He dives into how (and why) to be be more still and how our modern society is constantly trying to thrwart that.

Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen
The movie was great and I've been meaning to read the book (I know, shame on me for seeing the movie first). Plus it has a cool book cover that has been grabbing my eyes for years.

The Smartest Kids in the World by Amanda Ripley
Last but not least, this journalistic effort by Amanda Ripley looks fascinating. She follows the stories of three American high school students who study a year abroad, and documents what they learn about how Americans are viewed oversees, how our public school system is failing, and how raising children differs in other cultures. The topic of education and how we do things compared to how other countries do things is intriguing to me, so I look forward to reading this.

What's on your 2014 TBR list? Have you read any of these books?
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